It’s often said, ‘you should never go back’ but in the case of the St Lawrence River it had been a long 4 years since I had last walked it’s banks. I first visited this magnificent river system in 2011 and fished several swims over 3 days, searching for fish and all in all having a wonderful experience. If you’ve never fished the St Lawrence let me highlight a few things that make it so special.
First off, it’s around 740 miles long and in several of the sections is around 1-1.5 miles across. It’s referred to as the ‘St Lawrence River Seaway’ because on a daily basis you will see ships and tankers making their way up and down the river. The sheer size of the water may intimidate some, but it’s one of the beautiful aspects of the water. Secondly, along both the American and Canadian sides you have all manner of stretches; fast flowing shallow sections, deep dredged areas, inlets, bays and islands galore. The real challenge is choosing an area to fish. Third, the bank access is very good, if you do some research or even better, talk to the locals who are more than happy to share their river. Last but not least, the carp! Like all fishing, it can be hard at times but with big shoals of carp roaming the river the action can be thick and fast if you manage to locate them. The average size may be 15-25lb’s, but 30lb fish are common and there have been fish caught to over 50lb. Whatever the size, one thing I can guarantee is that they all fight very, very hard and will put your tackle to the test.
Back to my story; after my 2011 visit I was eager to get back the following year and when I did I had another great session with plenty of good fish and my first 30lb+ common from America. Again, I vowed to be back, but with work and also a big fish obsession on my local rivers I kept putting it off. Fast forward to this year and with my wife working and knowing that the first weekend of September would be my last one free until the middle of November I decided to hit the road.
Bait was order, particles were prepared, the car was packed and I also loaded my dog Lily to accompany me on the long 350 miles drive up to the Canadian border and the town of Ogdensburg. As alway’s the ride to the start a fishing trip is much easier than the one home, and with only one stop to walk the dog I made it up to the river in only 6 hours. My plan was to pre-bait one area where I thought the fish would be and then go and fish the next 24-36 hours in two other spots. If the first swims were successful I could always stay put, but it never hurts to have a back-up plan or two. I liberally baiting with around 3-4kg of boilies over one spot and around 2 gallons of mixed particles and tiger nuts over another spot and then made the short drive to the first spot I would fish.
This first spot was one that was alive with fish on my first visit but was a challenge to fish as the margins were strewn with the remains of an old dock! Due to this reason, I attached a good 25 feet of 30lb mono leader onto my reels and also upper the strength of all my other tackle. I set-up camp and put out some bait and sat back to wait for some signs of carp. Unfortunately, over the next 5 hours I didn’t see one sign of fish. Due to this I decided to move several hundred yards to the edge of the fishable area to see if the carp were hanging out in the slightly deeper water. Again, nothing occurred, apart from a fat channel cat.
I decided to stay put until the next morning at which point I would move, unless the fish turned up. It was a relatively quite night, until 3am when one of the rods screamed off and I was attached to a carp at last. Knowing the snags were a factor I wanted to let the fish run a bit and then let it tire itself out, before dealing with it in the margins; however the fish had other ideas. It kited to the right and swam straight to shore. It knew exactly where the snags were and even though I kept up with it and moved down the bank it inevitable found sanctuary! I was gutted, but realized this swim would be very hard to fish on my own as a second person with the net is really needed so you can stay high on the bank and keep pressure on the fish. I quickly packed away all of my gear, even though it was 3.15am and made the drive back to my pre-baited area.
Once I arrived I took my time to set-up again and baited one rod at a time. The area in question is fairly uniform in depth with the margins being as deep as the water 100 yards out, due to it being dredged to allow boats to run through. I put out my first rod in a margin spot about 3 rod lengths out from the bank and threw 3 or 4 handfuls of tiger nuts over the top. I would then put my other 2 rods over the area baited with boilies. I was quite surprised when only 10 minutes later the margin rod tore off and after a 5 minute fight I had my first fish on the mat which was joined 5 minutes later by another nice fish from one of the boilie rods.
It was obvious I had fish in the area and they had been feeding on my bait. Over the next couple of hours until daylight broke I had another 3 fish, all falling to my marginal tiger nut rod. Rather than heavily bait again, I went with a baiting approach I often use; fish for one fish at a time and then re-bait. This consisted of a few handfuls of tigers, 30-40 soluble boilies and 5-6 spods of hemp and cracked corn.
It was interesting to note that out of the first dozen fish only one of them fell to the boilie rods. In fact I may as well have been fishing with one rod! A rethink on how to fish the other two rods was required as I really wanted to have 3 productive spots. I could have been swayed by my results on boilies in the past, but it was obvious that tiger nuts and particles were more effective on this session, most likely due to the water temperatures which were still over 70 degrees. In warm water it really is hard to beat tiger nuts and having retained one decent fish for 30 minutes in the sling it was easy to see that they were loving them too; the sling was covered in crushed tiger nuts that the carp was expelling. I also noticed as the session went on that several of the carp were also excreting zebra muscles which may explain their love of crunchy food.
Back to my spots. When I last fished the swim the depths were 17 feet from the margins to over 100 yards but on casting this did not appear to be the case 4 years on. The margins were still 15 feet deep (a lack of rainfall had the river down 2-3 feet) but once you got 30 yards out the depths were only 10 feet or so! What had changed? After speaking to a local angler, I discovered the area had not been dredged for the last 4 years which was creating a build up of silt and sand from the nearby connecting smaller river. I’m not sure if this was the reason the fish were more comfortable in the margins but the activity was definitely greater.
I moved on of my boilie rods off the baited area and placed it in a second margin spot, again only 3-4 rod lengths out. My margin spots were well spread apart so in effect I was fishing two separate areas. Both spots were fed with tiger nuts and particles. I kept my boilie spot going and even though the action was lacking I regularly put 50-100 baits over the spot in the hope that when the carp did feed on this spot I would attract a few bigger specimens.
During my second day the action was steady with runs coming every hour or so. My second margin spot began to produce and by early evening I was up to around 15 carp in total with a few over the 25lb mark. The great thing about the St Lawrence fish is that for the most part they are in immaculate condition. Most likely the vast majority have never seen the bank and they certainly put a fight up to avoid the net. I wasn’t the only one having fun either. My dog, Lily was loving the action and would either howl at me from a distance when I was playing a fish or if able, swim out and try and land the carp herself. I’m not sure she’s the ideal carping dog, but she certainly keeps it interesting.
Towards the end of the day one of the local anglers, Tim, came down to chat and as the action continued helped me net a few fish and also landed one himself when I had a double take. The local anglers and the people in general are very friendly and helpful and really embrace visitors to their area. I chatted to time past midnight and as I had slept only 3 hours the previous night I decided to turn in. The carp had other ideas though as the boilie area finally sprang to life, along with the margin rods also steadily producing.
I moved my chair and sleeping bag next to the rods but didn’t really get more than 10 minutes rest at a time as I had around 15 carp before dawn finally came. The best part was the fish weights went up with the last 7 or 8 fish all being between 23-29lb’s. No thirties but I really wasn’t complaining. Finally, as the sun came up I took a few shots of the better fish and started to pack up slowly. I had another 24 hours fishing scheduled but with no sleep and work to do at home I was happy to leave early. No doubt I would have continued to catch and may even have got through to bigger fish, but I was happy with the session and I always like to leave something for next time.
Overall, my results were pretty good considering the water temperatures were still pretty high. I much prefer Fall conditions when the fish really start to feed, but by finding some fish and maximizing the area I had been able to catch fish regularly. I don’t keep meticulous records anymore, as I prefer to enjoy the ride now and not get hung up in numbers, but I would guess I had around 35 carp or so with around half of these being over 20lbs and 6 or 7 over the 25lb mark. All in all, well worth the 700 mile round trip.
If you’ve never been to the St Lawrence, I can’t recommend it enough. If you have visited, you no doubt are keen to get back. For myself, I’ll be hoping to get back in a few months and maybe next year I can get across the border to the Canadian side for a real adventure.